LAS VEGAS — The recent run of title upsets in the UFC has meant that no one is safe. Add Rafael dos Anjos to that list.
Eddie Alvarez needed one counter right hand to wobble dos Anjos midway through Round 1 and dramatically alter the course of their lightweight title bout on Thursday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Alvarez (28-4), a decided underdog, followed up the clean strike with constant pressure against the cage to stop dos Anjos on his feet and dramatically capture the UFC title in the main event of UFC Fight Night.
“This has nothing to do with me,” Alvarez said. “This has everything to do with my friends, my family, my trainers and my wife and kids. I love you guys.”
Entering the fight as the No. 4 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world by ESPN.com, dos Anjos (25-8) showed tremendous heart to stand tall and keep fighting as Alvarez teed off on him before the stoppage.
“He’s a champion. Rafael is resilient,” Alvarez said. “I had him hurt and I let him go. I told him, ‘Don’t bring the dog out of me! Don’t bring the dog out of me!'”
Dos Anjos, who saw his five-fight win streak come to a close, got off to a quick start by closing distance well with clean punches. He caught Alvarez flush with an overhand left and quickly bounced back to his feet after being taken down, only to sting Alvarez with a knee to the face in close.
Just as dos Anjos stepped up his aggressiveness, however, he was caught by the perfect shot and was visibly hurt as he retreated to the cage. Alvarez followed up with hooks from close range before nearly missing with a wild flying knee.
But Alvarez just kept coming, using a flurry of body shots to hurt dos Anjos even more. Two more hooks landed flush to the side of dos Anjos’ head before referee Herb Dean jumped in at 3 minutes, 49 seconds of the opening round.
“When I got caught, my hand was up, I had good form,” dos Anjos said. “It just happened.”
“This has been a marathon for me, not a sprint,” Alvarez said. “Everybody kept saying to me, ‘When are you coming to the UFC? When are you coming to the UFC?’ I just think if you work hard enough and you love something, belts like this are just byproducts of it.”
Dos Anjos, 31, was making his first appearance since pulling out of a title defense against featherweight champion Conor McGregor at UFC 196 in March after breaking his left foot.
“I came here in the best shape of my life. I have to give all the credit to Eddie, who did a great job,” dos Anjos said. “That’s the fight game, it happens. I won 10 of my last 11 but Eddie did a great job. I think I just got caught.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be back. I’ll come to get my belt back.”
Lewis takes split decision from Nelson
When hard-hitting heavyweight Derrick Lewis lands clean strikes, things happen.
Despite being controlled on the ground and against the cage for the majority of his three-round fight against veteran Roy Nelson, Lewis was rewarded by the judges for having enjoyed the bigger moments.
Helped by a wild right hand in the closing seconds of Round 3 that may have won him the fight, Lewis edged Nelson by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) to win his fourth straight bout. ESPN.com scored the bout 29-28 for Nelson.
“It is what it is,” Lewis said of the decision. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to win by decision.”
Lewis (16-4), a 6-foot-3 slugger from New Orleans who goes by the nickname “The Black Beast,” outlanded Nelson (21-13) in significant strikes by an overwhelming margin of 51-4. But outside of a flurry of clean strikes he used to twice wobble Nelson in Round 1, Lewis struggled to catch his wind the rest of the way and was mostly outworked by the 40-year-old Nelson.
Lewis, 31, was often content with Nelson controlling him in the clinch against the cage, which caused boos from the crowd and forced referee John McCarthy to restart the action multiple times. Nelson also had his way with Lewis on the ground as the fight wore on, forcing seven takedowns in eight attempts.
The problem for Nelson, who fell to 2-6 over his past eight fights, was that his offense was ineffective and left the door open for Lewis to sway the judges. Lewis created a large red blotch on Nelson’s belly with a hard kick in Round 1.
“I was surprised at how tough Roy Nelson is,” Lewis said. “I believe he has the toughest chin in the UFC and he took everything I’ve got in that first round. I felt I took his shots well and he did well to take me down. It’s intense with Roy on top of you, but I managed to get up and look for a finish. I wanted that finish and just kept throwing when we were standing, but he’s tough.”
Lewis’ looping counter right hand caught Nelson flush on the chin with less than 10 seconds remaining in the final round. It was the kind of punch that would have knocked most heavyweights cold and forced Nelson to use every strand of his patented unkempt beard in order to survive.
“I expected a close decision at the end of that fight,” said Lewis, who has the most knockouts in the UFC since 2014 with six. “I don’t like having to go to the judges’ decision. I want a rematch with Roy Nelson. Let’s do it again.”
Nelson summed up his thoughts on the decision in two words: “I won.”